Sunday, July 29, 2012

RIP Verkoff

The sudden cull of celebrities from my childhood - from Romanadrovratrelunder to Onslow Bucket - have put me into a bleak mood. Who will be the next to perish?

[Caption: Australia Zone 2084.]

[A domed city complex bakes under a large red sun. Smoke pours from factory vents.]

[Chez Verkoff. A neo-futuristic hacienda with holographic gum trees. A hover car lands and a good-looking Aboriginal youth wearing too much eyeliner and drab overalls emerges. Note: Warriors of the Deep was an absolutely accurate depiction of the 2080s, especially the fashion.]

[Foyer. The young man, Theodore J Verkoff, hurries up to a stern-looking woman in grey overalls.]

Theodore: [upset] Dr Restal! I came as soon as I saw the twitter feed...

Restal: Yes, of course. I'm afraid... he won't last the night. There's nothing more we can do.

[Theodore nods, steeling himself, and he and the woman move deeper into the house.]

[Master bedroom. Nigel Verkoff lies on the bed, looking pale, old and ill. He's mostly bald and very thin, wearing a kimono with UNSTOPPABLE SEX MACHINE across the front. Standing around him are his adult children - his daughters Wynona, Tamby and Charley-Pollard and his other son, Malachai. Their spouses and children are gathered in the corner.]

Nigel: [feeble] Is that Theo?

Theo: Yes, father. It's me. I'm here.

Nigel: [chuckles] Thought so. I'd know that aftershave anywhere. Jeez. You trying to asphyxiate us, boy? [sobers] Look. Just... come here... I need... to get something off my chest...

[They gather closer around him.]

Tamby: Please. Try to relax.

Nigel: Tamby. This is some serious shit. I've got to tell someone. I just hope you can forgive me.

Malachai: Of course we will. How bad can it be?

Nigel: [solemnly] I, Nigella Jay Verkoff... can't stand... Wil Anderson.

[A horrified pause.]

Theo: He's delirious.

Wynona: I'll get Dr. Restal.

Nigel: [to himself] The smug, unfunny twerp with his oh-so-edgy hairstyle, prancing around with the same crappy punchlines that weren't amusing the first time...

Charley-Pollard: But what about The Gruen Transfer? That was amazing.

Nigel: [feverish] A man gets paid to sit on his arse watching adverts? At the tax-payer's expense?! On the ABC? The man has less shame than he has talent, the gormless, nasal whinging freak!

Malachai: I don't believe this.

Theo: [worried] We can't risk this getting out...

[The family start exchanging horrified expressions.]

Nigel: [coughs] Kyle Sandilands? Kyle Sandilands? That hate-worshiping, bottom-feeding sadistic mongrel can get away with murder or worse as long as the ratings are high enough! What kind of society can tolerate a piece of cockroach feces like that?!?

Wynona: Well, he has a huge listenership...

Tamby: ...all those people can't be wrong!

Nigel: Bullshit!

[Nigel retches in pain for a moment, then goes limp. Theo fearfully checks him. Nigel cracks open one eye.]

Nigel: [sotto] Ricky Gervais.

Charley-Pollard: We've got to do something!

[Dr. Restal runs in and applies a hypospray injection to Nigel's neck.]

Nigel: That talentless, gutless creep with the eyes of a dead rat and the humor of an SS cardboard cutout. The Invention of Lying? Does that make any sense - why would anyone get upset if they grew up in a world where no one was nice? Just because no one can lie doesn't mean they spontaneously talk about masturbating, do they?

[Theo covers his eyes in horror. Nigel's in a frenzy now.]

Nigel: Kath and Kim? [long raspberry] Barry Humphries? An entire life dressed up as a woman so stupid her glasses have a better comic timing! Jonathon Woss! The world's first surviving brain donor! Rove McManus? That parasite used to make ends meet shoving toothpicks into his cheeks! And Nev Fountain? What a betrayal of five thousand years of civilization! He's as funny as cholera! And then he gets Nicola Bryant as his girlfiend? IS THAT SANE, I ASK YOU? IS IT?!?

[The family stare at him. Nigel shifts, self-consciously.]

Nigel: Sorry. Been bugging me for the last century. Still... I can rest at last...

[He closes his eyes and relaxes.]

Nigel: ...and don't any of you try to eulogize me. None of you have the wit.

[A long pause. Dr. Restal checks his pulse, then shakes her head. Malachai and Charley-Pollard start to cry. Theodore embraces Wynona to comfort her.]

Theo: Christ. What an ordeal.

[Everyone starts to shuffle out, weary and glum.]

Malachai: At least it's over now.

Wynona: Yeah. He's with mum now.

Charley-Pollard: I hope so.

Tamby: It's a mercy when you think about it.

[Theo wearily turns the bedclothes up over Nigel's face and turns to leave.]

Nigel: [muffled] CHRIS - FUCKING - LILLEY!!!!!

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Pete Campion RIP

My cat, Pete, died today. She was born in the late nineties... specifically at the end of my bed, first thing in the morning. I named her after the sparrow-cum-tyrannosaurus rex from Red Dwarf. She was a meek, sweet cat that lacked the automatic arrogance most felines have. Over the last fourteen years, she's been the runt of the litter - of many a litter - but she was friendly, affectionate, and sang.

And now she's dead.

At the time she was born, we were drowning in kittens and cats. I had upwards of twenty for a short period. Some ran off on great adventures. Some grew sick and died. Some were hit by cars. The number dwindled and the fewer there were, the more I needed those that remained. Once I needed two tables' space to feed my cats. Now it's down to five bowls, and technically two of those are for dogs.

Pete was, in my humble and now inaccurate opinion, doing fine until a couple of days ago. She'd had three trips to the vet - once to be desexed, once to have her teeth removed cause they were infected, and once to check her congenital sniffle was nothing to worry about. The other week she climbed up onto my chest and explosively sneezed all over my glasses. She won't do that any more. And, honestly, I didn't mind.

The thing is, she was one of the unsung cats. She didn't have a huge personality, she was one of the in betweens. The Rory Williams of cats. Her mother, Vila, was a demented, senile fun-loving protector; her uncle Jacko has been stuck in his first childhood for most of Matt Smith's lifetime; her brother Malory has an origin story worthy of most superheroes; and her sister NB, well, she's my cat and quite possibly my best friend. Pete was used to being pushed around, told off, and never quite understood the "retract thy claws when on a lap" rule. But she did her best to make sure we were all right. She stood vigil, kept us company, reminded us when it was seven o'clock and time to turn over to Doctor Who.

I lived with her for over fourteen years. And then she got sick, I took her to the vet, and five minutes after we left her, she just died. I wanted it to be at home, in the garden and sunshine. I didn't want to take her away and take her to the vet, away from her home and family for the last time. She seemed to be getting better - she was keeping quite mobile and, as was her want, going out into the garden to drink rain water that had filtered through plants. Even in the bleakest, most worst case scenario, I was sure she'd last until we decided whether or not to try and operate on her or put her down.

I thought - I swear I thought - I'd get to say goodbye.

But selfless, generous Pete, decided not to bother. The moment we left her at the vet's, she just turned herself off. The vet couldn't believe it and rang me up, half expecting me to rant and accuse her of poisoning my cat. They don't normally drop dead like that, you see. It's quite rare.

And now I have to live in a Pete-less world. It's quite lonely. No redeeming features, so far.

So here are some photos of the friend I can't turn to any more.

Malory, Pete and Frodo admire the sunshine from the TARDIS doorway.

Pete keeps vigil over my dog, Dogrooter, when he was feeling sick.

The blue-eyed Rat keeps Pete and Dogrooter company.

Pete plays mirrors with her uncle Jacko, since they actually had the exact same markings.

Pete indulges in her one vice - drinking rainwater sieved through potplants.

Pete gives her paparazzi a disapproving look.

I'd give anything to have her back.

That's all.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Musings on Murders

OK, melodrammatic blogpost title. What are you, perfect?

With the release of two new stories from Magic Bullet/Kaldor City Productions, I was considering doing a proper essay discussing the identity or not of Kaston Iago. Given that both Paul Darrow and Alan Stevens had said he wasn't Avon, the bucketload of evidence to support the fact seemed remarkably... superfluous.

If anyone's interested, the play Metafiction is a two-hander rambling conversation much in the mold of The Prisoner where Iago tries to pierce the veil of reality... and any patience of the listener... showing that he really is a very boring windbag when he's not shooting innocent people. The main difference is that Metafiction has some humor in it, though much of it has to be Paul Darrow's drunken, glum performance as he tries to summarize Blake's 7 and ends up with the conclusion that it was crap. If I were trying to read subtext, I would say Mrssrs Stevens and Moore, realizing how infantile, crude and ultimately pointless Kaldor City was, are trying to retrospectively slag off Blake's 7 to make themselves feel better.

Certainly, there's no hero worship as they had in Liberation or even that article about Weapon. Far from being a politically-sophisticated, well-character-driven story arc, Metafiction paints a clear picture of a pointless repetitious and morally-bankrupt saga of gunfire, explosions, shoddy science, bad continuity, nihilistic plotting that was all a waste of time. Iago is bored rigid describing the plot of Blake, for crying out loud. It's the nastiest review of the show I've seen NOT written by Clive James.

Of course, the entire thing is a single punchline. If RTD were in charge, cutting out the flab and speeding up to cut to the chase, Metafiction could be summarized as...

JUSTINA: So, Iago. Who are you really?

IAGO: You ever see Blake's 7?


IAGO: Good. It was shit.

From the first, rather bewildering lines - this is Iago's job interview following the events of Occam's Razor - it is clear the joke is that Iago is going to say he's Avon. BBC law of some kind means that he has to be extra vague, and just detail his flight from the Federation with a crusader aboard an alien spaceship. The only outright reference is to Gauda Prime (cue a joke that it means "Big Cheese"... never occured to me before or since) and that's it. The revelation that Avon survived the final scene by shooting out the lights and letting the troopers kill each other - which, shamefully, is pretty much my own take on events - surpised me as it contradicted The Logic of Empire. He didn't use a Sea Devil in Dorien's Basement to simply NOT DIE, but LOE's claim he then spent seven years hanging around space bars sulking is true.

Anyway, the joke I mentioned. The fact is, Paul Darrow plays the entire play not as Avon or Iago. He plays it as Zaphod Beeblebrox, stoned and mellow and very defensive. "Hey, we were trying, OK?!?" is the sort of thing he says, while his drunken and very inaccurate description of Sand is basically Bill Bailey as the sperm whale. It's entertaining, but it never convinces for a microsecond that Iago really could be Avon. He gets 80% of the details wrong, is completely out of character throughout, and most damning of all is clearly taking the piss out of Justina from the word go.

At the end of the play, Justina wearily asks if Kaston Iago is really his name. Iago shrugs and reveals his name is...

...Paul Darrow.

(Actually, it's honestly made funnier by the delivery. It's basically like Iago breaking down and admitting he's NOT a cool psychopath who rapes and murders for fun and profit, he's just pretending and he's rubbish at that. Never has a man revealed his name so miserably before.)

So. The revelation is quite simple. Kaston Iago was bored in an interview and bullshitted a crude program guide to Blake's 7 which Justina assumed was his real-life experience. Unless we're seriously supposed to think Paul Darrow is/was/will be catapulted into the future and then decide to become a foam-at-the-mouth serial killer on an alien planet using the skills he learned in a BBC Quarry several years ago.

Therefore we assume that Kaldor City occurs in a universe where the Blake's 7 television series has somehow survived into the far future, and Kaston Iago watched it, thought it was crap, but was amused by the similarities between it and real life.

However, mein comerades, there is an ALTERNATIVE ENDING!

By which I mean the exact same play as a separate download except the final line is Iago calmly revealing his real name is Frank Archer.

Now, I assumed this was some kind of reference to The Archers and put it down to some crap joke but, actually, the alternative ending makes a hell of a lot of sense if you then heard MB's play The Time Waster. Again, it's an el-cheapo, three-hander, real-time, locked in a room dialogue. And again, it's better than The Prisoner.

It's a complicated tale of wibbly-wobbly timey-wimeyness (and I mean complicated - I don't pretend for a moment that I kept a proper grasp on the various parallel timelines, as I was too busy cheering on Trevor Cooper's "Oh, fuck off!" every time Paul Darrow came up with a bit of pretentious macho wank like "I don't waste time - I WASTE CRIMINALS!!!").

Basically, Frank Archer is a 20th century copper who gets a time machine and uses to rewrite history so criminals are murdered before they can commit such crimes. Alas, he ends up a temporal exile on the verge of insanity and multiple copies of himself flee through history. It's hardly the work of Craig Hinton to suggest one such copper - now a deranged serial killer with an identity crisis - travels into the future, ends up on Kaldor and then, as Metafiction shows, bluffs his way with knowledge from Blake's 7 which he had seen on TV.

(For those who want to try and comprehend how Kaldor City can occur if Blake's 7 never happened, Steven Moffat himself wrote a Bernice Summerfield story several years ago when she was shocked to discover a BBC television series accurately portraying the acts of a terrorist group in the far future. Terry Nation was fond of the idea he was simply "dramatizing" historical records, as he publically claimed he got all his scripts from a metal cube he found under a tree - very humble as a writer, isn't he?)

This leads me to the thing that bothers me. I quite liked The Time Waster, except the logic of Frank Archer was... well. A bit dogy. Basically, he wants to use a time machine to solve crimes. Easy enough to do, but he is faced with a "moral dilemma".

He cannot stop a criminal from say, killing someone, because then a crime is not commited. You can't put someone away for murder if he hasn't murdered anyone. And if you put him in for attempted murder, he gets a reduced sentence, gets out and commits another crime.

Frank Archer apparently is such a bleeding heart that he cannot bear the thought of all those people who will either be dead, injured or traumatized.

His instant solution is to then murder the criminals for crimes they are going to commit.

He thus kills around 26,000 people who hadn't technically done anything wrong but were intending to do so.

Anyone willing to slaughter defenseless people in the tens of thousands doesn't strike me as someone who gives a flying fuck about morality. Frank never considers, for example, using the time machine to save lives. He prevents crime, but he doesn't, for example, stop anyone boarding the Titanic (and if the authors are reading, yes, I know there's a reason why he couldn't travel back that far, but there are plenty of other such disasters he could avoid and prevent). He decides that the only use for time travel is to kill people. He doesn't even try to get the lottery numbers. And while he benefits from these history revisisons, it's clear Frank is in it for the killing crims rather than his inevitable promotions.

Now, I could chalk Frank down as a hypocritical psycho unaware his callous disregard for human life is precisely the quality that he uses to deem other human lives expendable. Except the two coppers who exist, it seems, solely to give Frank someone to retell the story to, never point out the flaw. They note all sorts of temporal paradox, trickery and plot holes like me reviewing a sparacus story on crack (btw, his latest effort is, for him, surprisingly good - he's actually learned what "past tense" is, for example).

But they never say to Frank "why don't you go back in time, find what MADE the criminal want to commit the crime, and then fix it?" To put it another way, when Kryten was asked if he'd go back in time, find the baby Adolf Hitler and then kill the baby and thus prevent the horrors of the Nazis.

Kryten calmly replied, "No. But I would be prepared to go back in time, find baby Adolf Hitler and give him a damn good talking to!"

And, while I'm not naive enough to say this would be a universal solution, it's an idea, isn't it?

It's not as if Frank would be unable to do it. He can make it so he rules a planetary mafia of assassins. Why not rule a planetary mafia of psychiatrists, hunt down each criminal and cure him? Or at least try?

In Dirty Harry, a similar sort of problem faces Clint Eastwood. He can let a legally-innocent man walk and thus cause horrible injury, or break the law with a pre-emptive strike. Clint shoots the crazy fucker dead, but chucks away his badge, clearly unable to get out of the grey area - he has saved lives but also taken them. Were it Frank Archer he would have probably shot the bloke and all his hostages because at least ONE of those busload of children was going to grow up to be a criminal.

Why, therefore, is murder the first resort in so many Alan Stevens/Fiona Moore stories?

Take Kaldor City, the world of psychopaths who spend all day trying to kill each other. Why? Why is life so cheap? Why, if 80 per cent of the population live in the Sewerpits as savages of no use to anyone - the robots do all the work, after all - why don't the elite just gas all the peasants? Carnell, puppeteer extraordinaire, can't think of any plans that don't involve murdering people. Uvanov hates Landerchild, but unlike seemingly everyone else on the planet, doesn't get Iago to shoot him. It's not even as if Iago's gun-sprees do any damn good, is it? Whatever happens at the end of Checkmate, Iago shooting people is not the answer. What good occurs from people killing each other?

It also makes Robots of Death impossible to take seriously as a prequel. Why? Because, simply, people give a damn about each other. Murder is a crime, a serious crime that provokes anger, hatred, grief, fear. Borg is a suspect because he's aggressive, with a hair-trigger temper. So why hasn't he murdered the whole crew by now? Robots do all the hard work and he's rich enough to get away with it. The answer is: BECAUSE HE'S NOT A FUCKING PSYCHOPATH! Like Uvanov - he reveals his hatred of the Founding Families wasn't simply down to social insecurity, but because he was framed as a negligent boss by the old boys' network when one of their number commited suicide out of robophobia. "I tried to save him," he says sadly, cradling Poul.

This is, apparently, the same nutter who orders Stalinist purges of close friends. For the hell of it.

And, oddly enough, Magic Bullet Productions have restaged Robots of Death - now with all the stupid Doctor Who stuff removed and pure Kaldor City removed. Kaston Iago and Blayes travel through time to the Sandminer for the original murders and... shoot people. Because they're psychopaths! And human life doesn't matter!

Reviews for the performances are, I think it fair to say, mixed - particularly the revised ending to the play where Taren Capel turns into the Fendahl and kills everyone.

The play, however, is not a total success, and where it falls is largely where it deviates from Boucher’s original concept. On TV the Doctor had to investigate the mystery, then improvise an ingenious solution when Taren Capel was revealed. Here, Iago and Bleyes are aware of Capel’s presence from the start, and the story concludes in an unsubtle hail of plasma bullets. Worse, the last few minutes unveil another, previously unhinted-at force behind the events; it’s the equivalent of Hercule Poirot gathering all the suspects together in the library, only to reveal the killer is from an entirely unrelated Miss Marple story before spraying the room with a machine gun. The play itself has been made strange and the ending unsatisfying.

This leads me back to Metafiction, I suppose and the strange difference between how Blake's 7 is seen. Apparently human life is totally worthless. Iago has no interest in Avon's dead crew, or Blake, or the millions that died in the Galactic War or all the planets that blew up. Killing people is, as Jim Moriarty might have said, is what people are, apparently for. Frank Archer wants a world with people dead rather than people alive. The Fendahl is death and kills every living thing.

Yet I think of Headhunter. In Metafiction, Iago protests that this was the only time they ever tried anything beyond selfish and violent destruction of innocent lives. And, of course, the most important thing is that everyone was so stupid to mistake a robot with a severed head on its shoulders for a living scientist.

I only remember the scene where Avon tries to tell Vena that his crew might have killed her boyfriend. The shocked, greiving Vena shouts that her criminals are murderers.

And that pisses Avon the fuck off.

Having made a genuine effort to be kind and sensitive, Avon snaps, "Try not to be stupid! We needed him alive - his death serves no purpose for us!" The A-Man is unsettled and upset at that. True, he and his pals have killed a lot of people, but the idea he kills for kicks - for fun - disgusts Avon. Killing people is a serious matter and one that Avon never takes lightly. Shooting down a Federation guard in self-defense is one thing. The hoops Avon went through justifying going after Shrinker showed he understood Cally's arguments against and had clearly thought of them himself. And that's surely a huge, important difference between Avon, Iago and Archer.

If I may spoiler, in an upcoming B7 episode in Season E, Avon has to defend himself for killing Blake.

He holds himself up quite well in court but then he is asked a question he cannot answer.

How did shooting Blake help?

What good was caused by doing that? Even if he had betrayed Avon, what was the benefit of killing him? Blake didn't live long enough to suffer any kind of punishment or remorse. It didn't improve the Scorpio crew's chances in the silo - whereas, say, taking Blake hostage could have saved their lives. Even the most brutal viewpoint would be Avon wasted three bullets on an unarmed man that could have been used on armed troopers.

Now, I'm not saying ANY of that was occuring to Avon when he pulled the trigger. That's the whole nature of a Greek tragedy, circumstances painted Avon into that corner where all he could do was the wrong thing. My point is that it was the wrong thing.

In the episode, Avon has to confess that killing Blake achieved nothing.

Kaston Iago, in similar circumstances, would not even understand the the question.

And, from their writings, I'm not sure the minds behind Magic Bullet would either.